Interview: developing better advertising using neuroscience (part 1)


Using Neuroscience to develop better advertising

The following is the transcript of an interview between Team Darwin’s Nick Radley and Ross Webb of Mindway Media.  Nick was being interviewed about why he is a passionate believer in using neuroscience to help develop better communications.  A few grammatical errors have been corrected and occasionally Nick has added in square brackets areas that he didn’t get quite right!



Thanks for joining us.

Today, we are joined by the Founder and Chief Strategist of Team Darwin: Nick Radley.

We’re gonna be going behind the scenes of neuroscience; learning why it matters to marketers and why it’s not just about men and women in white coats.

So, why should neuroscience matter to marketers?


Nick Radley:

Well, I’ll start by saying that I’ve been a strategic planner and a researcher for many years, so a part of my job has always been to work out what effects any communications we might construct have on a target audience. If we strip it right back to the beginning, what we’re actually in this business to do, is to affect the way that neurons fire in people’s brains; how certain associations are created, how people feel about things, what emotions are generated.

So, if that’s what we’re in the business to do, why wouldn’t you invest a bit of time and effort into a science that is actually uncovering how some of that stuff actually works?

I think, we can all agree that TV ads stimulate the brain in some way, so do print ads and any other kinds of communications and that those stimulations, if you like, associate themselves with perceptions of a brand,  attraction to a product, or a desire to go and buy something an its most basic level. So neuroscience, and the way it’s being used nowadays, is actually uncovering how those relationships work and how you can best influence them.

So, if you are marketer and you’ve got a brand message that you’d want to get out there, why wouldn’t you invest some time into actually understanding what would give that message the best chance of landing?

That’s why I think it’s important.  For example, there are plenty of studies on neuroscience now which show that what you’re after, when you’re constructing your advertising, is long term memory encoding. You want whatever message you put out there to try and stick in somebody’s long term memory. And then, what you’re also trying to do is, make sure that long term memory association is connected with your brand in some way.

So, when you’re constructing advertising, if you do neuroscience research on it, you can actually tweak your campaign, or change it fundamentally, in order to give it the best chance of lodging in the long term memory and generating the right kind of associations – to make sure that your messages are attractive to people, or they can engage with them.

You know, these are words we’ve used in advertising for many, many years. We know that we need engagement in a piece of communication – why on earth wouldn’t you?

But the point is now you can actually measure how that’s happening in people’s brains.



Can you give us an example?



Yes, I’ll give you a very practical example of that.

If you cast your eye over Britain’s television advertising space right now, traditionally a pretty good market for TV ads you’d have to say, but if you cast your eye over it, and any of the ads on a particular day, and look where the branding occurs in those ads, you’d find roughly 7 to 8 out of 10 of those ads are potentially falling foul of one of the most basic rules that neuroscience has brought to life, which is, where you should place your brand.

And it turns out that putting your packshot at the end of an ad, which is the traditional place it appears, is often the worst place for it to go. In truth, a lot of people do know this, but yet it’s still happening on a daily basis in Britain’s television advertising. So, by analyzing where and how you’d put your brand in an ad so that it is a part of the story, or at least doesn’t occur during a place where your brain is paying the least attention, you’d have a better chance of your advertising is working.



Where should I put my packshot?



Well, this comes to the heart of it. There are several sort of “key areas” in neuroscience. Now, it’s worth pointing out that I’m not a neuroscientist myself and I’m not an expert in it. But, what I am is an enthusiastic student of it, and I’m also damned sure that we need to use the people who are the experts in it, to help us construct and develop our advertising from the moment we decide to advertise.

So, there are loads of different phenomenon for example, there are things like conceptual closure, facial processing, how you signal reward, and how you use music to sonically trigger certain things, and, you know, there is lots of work that has gone into these areas in ways that allow your advertising to work better.

The issue you were referring to here, about the packshot at the end, is mostly linked to conceptual closure. Brains are designed to look for stories and narratives – that’s what they are interested in, particularly when they are looking, in this example, at TV. So, a typical ad may have a joke in it and perhaps a beginning, middle, and an end. Your brain is looking for that narrative. And when it thinks it gets to the end of that narrative, it tries to make sense of it and then stores it. That is my, sort of, layman’s understanding of how it works. And at that point when the brain tries to understand it – a process called chunking, I believe – at that point in time, it’s paying less attention to what’s happening on the screen [in truth it’s not paying less attention it is less receptive and that also impacts on memory]. So, a classic TV ad setup with a beginning, middle and end, and a joke in it often has the brand come up at the end – a sponsored joke if you like. That point when the packshot arises is exactly the point when your brain is chunking and is therefore paying the least attention. As a result, you get the phenomenon that you’ll hear in the streets, you know, people say, “did you hear that ad about x and x last week, this happened in it” and someone would say, “Ok, who is it for?”, and very often the viewer will not know which brand that ad is for, which, you know, if you were the brand owner or the person who has fronted up the cash for the media spend, isn’t gonna be music to your ears! You want people to know that the ad they enjoyed was for your brand.  And so, its things like that I think are really, really important to understand.



So, how can neuroscientists help? What do they know about marketing?


Well, there are companies out there now whose job is to be that bridge between the white coats, the science, the electrodes, the probes, the brain waves and then the marketing communications strategy and we’ve been using them at Team Darwin for as long as we’ve existed and also in previous lives. The point here is that there are companies out there now who’re using that technology and brain understanding to help you develop better communications. Our partner is called Neuroinsight and they’re fabulous, they’ve got backgrounds in marketing and strategy and they’re also allied to the technology. Some bespoke technology which in real time analyzes how people interpret ads. So their only job in life, if you like, is to work out what the relevance of what they’ve seen going on in the neuroscience is to marketing and communications. So they’re experts in it. And we advocate their use whenever and as many times as possible basically.



How does it work? what can it do?



You can look at, in real time, second by second, and see where key areas of the brain light up and when they don’t and they can also map those into the likely outcomes. What is the likely emotional engagement, what’s the approach withdraw or what is the intensity of that engagement, and then also how likely it is to filter into long term memory [in truth they can actually measure what goes into long term memory, so it’ seven more useful!] . So, a really good tool. Anyone who wants to have a look at it should go to Neuroinsight’s website, it’s amazing stuff.

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